Never Under Estimate the Value of Experience

ReadinWord Directions On Keyboardg what Block (2011) and Schein 1999) have to share on consulting has given me a new appreciation for “experience”.  Schein offers his “principles” and Block has his “steps” and “elements” but as I continue through the reading, it is clear that “flawless consulting” is more than merely applying “principles”, “steps” and/or “elements”.  The authors offer no “formulas” for guaranteed success.  What they do offer are insights based upon their experiences.  Both authors possess knowledge of their subject matter.  However, knowledge is only the beginning of building expertise.  Block and Schein add to the value of what they offer, having crafted their consulting expertise through years of applying “principles”, “steps” and “elements” to their experience in consulting.

In particular, I have appreciated the authors’ examples of “how” one might apply their information.  For example, in Process Consultation Revisited: Building the Helping Relationship, Schein elaborates on the application of his “Principle 9: Everything Is Data: Errors Will Always Occur and Are the Prime Source for Learning” with a great illustration on how to use the “why” question.

“The “why” question is a powerful intervention because it often forces the client to focus on something that they had taken entirely for granted and to examine it from a new perspective.  By choosing the subject matter of the “why” carefully, the consultant can create a different mental process leading to quite different insights.  A major choice is whether to focus the client on why he did what he did, why someone else in the story did what they did, or why some event happened that did not involve the client or some specific other person in the story.” (p. 51)

Similarly, in his book Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used, Block illustrates just how the consultant might “Give Support” (Step 7) to a client in the process of navigating the contract.

“Starting a project like this takes some risk on your part, and I appreciate your willingness to take that risk with me.” (p. 86)

“You are very perceptive about the nature of these kinds of problems.  This is going to help a lot on this project.” (p.86)

The importance of experience was brought home to me recently as I prepared a meal for my father. I was using a new recipe which I needed to cut in half as I cooking just for the two of us.  As I added each ingredient, I was careful to reconfigure the measurement for each.  cooking-at-homeWhen it came time to combine all the ingredients together, I realized that the consistency was not correct.  Somehow cutting the proportions had not resulted in the right consistency so I quickly made a minor adjustment, adding more of one of the ingredients and that did the trick.  How did I know the consistency was not correct?  It certainly was not because I am a gourmet cook.  Rather, the experience of making a similar dish helped me recognize that the consistency was not what it should be and to know what I needed to do to fix it.  My experience helped me avoid a dinner disaster.

As I approach the upcoming consulting project, I have some reservation and apprehension regarding my lack of experience in professional consulting.  I greatly value the experience which both Block and Schein have gained through their consulting practices.  Much like a child can learn by the guidance offered through the wisdom of their parents, I can benefit from the experience of others who have gleaned many valuable lessons from their practice in this area.  This gives me encouragement as I begin my own practice of applying this new knowledge in order to gain greater experience in the helping process.

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3 Responses to Never Under Estimate the Value of Experience

  1. Journeygirl says:

    Well Wally,
    I too, share many of the same thoughts and feelings that you touched on in your post. I also felt relieved to read that you’re feeling unsure and uncertain as we move forward with our projects. I, like you, am moving in unfamiliar territory, but at the same time I take comfort in the “not knowing” and trusting that intuitively I need to follow my instincts in addition to relying on the text read (“instructions” from both Block and Schein). I like the analogy you’ve laid with making a new dish -the steps necessary to following the recipe. In the same way, we are following a recipe of steps by Block and Schein and hopefully we will create something close to our intended goal. What I also like in your analogy, is that although you were uncertain if your steps were correct, you trusted yourself when you felt your end result was not coming out as planned. I believe that is part of the “Flawless” consulting that Block refers to when he states that the consultant must be “real” – authentic with themselves when working with a client to help solve the problem. If it doesn’t “feel” right, then stop and reassess the direction you’re headed in before continuing forward. Like your dish for your father, you knew you had to go back and retrace your steps to find the problem, before you could move forward and achieve your goal.
    I think part of our success with our groups with our project will be finding that place of authenticity along the way; in addition to (hopefully) helping our clients achieve success.

  2. Laurie N says:

    A good share of people are looking for a recipe for success, one that will guarantee that nothing will go wrong. Relatively few relationships in life come off without a hitch. When one is paying for a service, though, experience is expected. I find that the examples that others provide, the details of successes and failures give me at least a little bit of scaffolding to use when tackling a problem. Good luck with your project. I look forward to hearing more about it as the semester progresses!

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